War enthusiasm before and during the start of WW1?

My understanding (from Dan Carlin) is that Germany wasn't "defending" anything.

Don't believe everything you hear, especially from him. Everyone makes mistakes.

Germans were initially defending their ally Austria and then themselves from Russia. Russia was partially mobilizing first against Austria-Hungary, then fully against Germany, essentially a declaration of war. The Germans had to mobilize to defend themselves from Russia.

It was almost an axiom of 19th century war, you don't mobilize for nothing, and the Germans weren't the first to mobilize. Many battles possibly wars were won by the country who could mobilize and concentrate the most troops the fastest, virtually all other strategies became secondary. This was the age when mass levies and mobilizations were overtaking small professional armies, a trend that continued into the next century.

To complicate things, once you mobilize you can't go back and redo it. It's complicated, taking a great deal of effort and organization to do effectively. Also you can't wait to see if, when and where your neighbor will mobilize, because it can cost you the war.

The Germans asked the French to stay out of it, when Russia mobilized to defend it's sphere of influence in the Balkans (i.e. Serbia). The Germans may or may not have known about their treaty with the Russians, or they may simply not have trusted leaving the French to their back without any assurances. Did the French really care about the Russians? I doubt it (though they had some commercial interests), they were mortal enemies not a century before, but I suspect some Frenchmen wanted an excuse for war and revenge against the Germans, a not inconsiderable part of the motives. It also explains Jaures assassination.

It is perhaps gets a bit muddy here too since they apparently didn't respond to the German request. The French could have stayed out, but they chose not to, at the most charitable, they chose to appear ambivalent, hardly reassuring to the Germans. They mobilized, but according to some (possibly partial) sources stayed 10 miles back from the German border. If you believe it (every soldier 10 miles back? even border guards?), and that it was meant to calm the situation and enough to pacify the Germans, you might consider whether they could get a significant portion of their troops to within 10 miles of the border anyway, and whether or not it could be inviting a German incursion for a Causus Belli. Also could Germany take the chance and march east, waiting for some belated response, relying only on French good intentions after French mobilization, by that time Frenchmen could be marching through Strassbourg. For their part, the French could not waste time once Germany mobilized either, it may have been the main reason they lost the last war.

The important point seems to be that the French fully mobilized, on the same day Germany did! August 1st. Mutual declarations of war, delivered or not. It is hard to see the Germany as the lone aggressors at this point. The Germans were good and practiced at mobilizing, and anxious fighting not take place on their territory, thus the Schlieffen plan and Belgium and so forth, all after the fact.

Thus whether or not the Germans were 'defending' anything depends on your view of their 'aggression'. The view that Germany was the lone aggressor and should shoulder all blame, seems dishonest and unfairly self righteous, especially when used to justify their harsh treatment after the long and bloody war. 'To the victor goes the spoils' seems to include history.

/r/history Thread